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Raymond Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings: The Lady in the Lake / The Little Sister / The Long Goodbye / Playback /Double Indemnity / Selected Essays and Letters (Library of America) Hardcover – October 1, 1995
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Raymond Chandler is arguably the best American pulp novelist. His prose is so acutely visual, his characters so raw and intense that it is small wonder that all but one of his books have been made into movies. And his hero Philip Marlowe has graduated into American legend. Together with its companion volume (Stories and Early Novels), Later Novels and Other Writings forms the most complete Chandler collection in print. In addition to his later novels, this collection contains selected essays and letters, biographical information, and textual as well as explanatory notes. As an added bonus, the editor has included Chandler's screenplay to Double Indemnity, the classic Billy Wilder film adapted from James M. Cain's novel. You're able to compare the script to the finished movie and have the rare opportunity to see how one major crime novelist altered and interpreted another.
From Library Journal
These additions to the venerable series make official what mystery fans have always known: Raymond Chandler is one of the gods of American literature. Following the trail blazed by Dashiell Hammett, Chandler created Philip Marlowe and set the standard against which all private detective fiction is measured. This two-volume set covers the full canon of Chandler's work from early pulp stories to all the Marlowe novels, the screenplay for Double Indemnity, and essays on the mystery genre plus the usual Library of America goodies such as notes on the text and a chronology of the author's life. In terms of literary inventions, the Wild West cowboy and the hard-boiled P.I. are this country's only true native sons and are deserving of respect. One of them at least now has it.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Excellent writing, superb storytelling and vivid characterizations of Southern California, and particularly LA in the late 30' though the early the 50's. As a child, I lived in the many of the areas Chandler wrote about, and his descriptions of the sites, sounds, smells, life styles, manner of dress, social structure and manner of speaking brought back many childhood memories. His plots tend to be complex; he's a great read for those who enjoy trying to solve mysteries, as well as those who just like to go with the flow of the story.
But, just like in the first collection, he wasn't a great, or even good, mystery writer. The Lady in the Lake has a brilliant beginning, leading up to the discovery of the body, and a brilliant twist ending. Everything in between is rough going, plot-wise. There is a whole secondary mystery which transpires off-screen and involves side characters who are only briefly sketched out. This is a big drawback, since characterization is Chandler's biggest strength and some of these half-baked characters are central to the plot: for example, Mildred Haviland is said to be an irresistible seductress and manipulator of men, but this is never shown or described. Among the other failings of the plot, there is also yet another scene where Marlowe gets knocked out and has to make a rather improbable escape (also a pointless one, since he's discovered almost immediately -- there would have been no difference if this part had been written out). The antagonist is also quite bland: too self-centered and angry to be sympathetic, and too simple to be a master villain.
At the same time, the book is compulsively readable for the dialogue, such as Marlowe's interrogation of the playboy Lavery or his professional discussions with the sheriff at the mountain retreat. The descriptions of the woods and lake are also atmospheric and serve to disrupt expectations for the book, since all of the previous Marlowe stories took place in LA. At some point the failings of the plot catch up to the witty conversations, but getting there is enjoyable in and of itself.
The Little Sister is notable for its paranoid atmosphere (even among Chandler's own work). It is a thoroughly pessimistic tale in which no one can be trusted, and every conversation is full of lies and evasion. Like in The Big Sleep, it is not always clear just how much Marlowe understands, and so the reader has to guess where, and whether, he is trying to lead his interlocutors. It helps that these verbal duels are striking even when they lead nowhere (like the startling encounter with one "Mr. Toad"). The novel also draws on Chandler's experience as a Hollywood screenwriter to viciously criticize, in extremely specific detail, vacuous show-biz ambition and the pointless cruelty that it creates.
A common trope in detective fiction is the Incompetent Policeman who does nothing but get in the sleuth's way. Chandler criticizes corrupt and over-confident cops a lot in this collection (particularly in The Long Goodbye), but The Little Sister also gives the police a chance to reply, in the form of the articulate police detective Christy French, who gives a completely ironclad, irrefutable objection to Marlowe's loose-cannon behaviour. Chandler was willing to briefly step outside Marlowe's perspective in order to show its limitations.
Then we come to The Long Goodbye, Chandler's magnum opus about misplaced trust and bitter disappointment. There are two murders, both of which are also quite improbable. But, although they set all the events in motion, they're actually very tangential to the narrative. To drive the point home, Marlowe never even visits the scene of the first crime, and his investigative work for the second consists of dredging up obscure documents, which serve as a deus ex machina for the "logical" part of the story.
The rest of the book is filled up with truly bizarre, grotesque supporting characters, many of whom have no direct relevance to the plot: a misanthropic billionaire; no fewer than three shady doctors, each one with a very distinct brand of sleaze; an enraged cop; a psychotic and self-obsessed Mexican gangster; a jaded former friend from the police force; a nutty ex-colonel running a corporate detective agency; and really any other episodic character. The main characters are likewise vividly drawn: the whiny alcoholic writer Roger Wade, allegedly a stand-in for Chandler himself, wallowing in endless self-pity; his icy wife Eileen, who isn't quite all there after living through World War II; and the book's lynchpin character Terry Lennox, Chandler's highly critical take on the charming and shiftless Jake-Barnes "Lost Generation" archetype.
Marlowe himself is different in this book, and has a different role. He searches for contact and repeatedly loses it for different reasons -- with Lennox, the Wades, Linda Loring, his former colleague Bernie Ohls, and even with the gangster Menendez (even as they are exchanging insults and threatening each other, their conversation at times has an odd camaraderie). Perhaps it isn't fair to say that his trust in Lennox was betrayed. Maybe his expectations were too high. All the other characters in the book seem to be quite content focusing on the shells they've built around themselves. The book allows the reader to look at them through the eyes of someone who thinks that this is wrong, and who proves his conviction by subjecting himself to considerable personal risk and inconvenience. But, as Marlowe admits, by doing this he may have actually brought about a worse outcome.
The book also contains Playback, the last long Marlowe story. It suffers in comparison to its immediate predecessor, but on its own merits I think it's quite enjoyable. Actually it might be the best pure detective story out of the seven Marlowe novels. The collection also includes the excellent screenplay of Double Indemnity and sundry essays, which are largely unnecessary (I'd have liked to see the final Marlowe short story "The Pencil" instead). But core of the collection is the novels, which are brilliant and contain enough depth in both style and content to reward numerous readings.
Chandler is the master of description; "from thirty yards away she looked good, up close she looked like she'd been made up to look good from 30 yards away." << I'm paraphrasing but if you like this kind of straight to the heart writing Chandler is your boy.